Looking Up

With recent encouragement I changed my focus and gazed skyward.

Rewarded immediately, the porous and slightly concave underside of Otzi, the Ice Man’s Tinderconk fungi, revealed a pattern repeated over and over again.

In another place where the forest is intended as a demonstration project, the dancers of the woods let their boughs reach down as if they were ladies dressed in gowns rather than Norway Spruce standing in a foreign community.

The upward gaze, however, was soon drawn down to the cone with scales numerous, thin and irregularly toothed, attracted my eye and that of a squirrel who left a large midden at the tree’s base.

And then that gaze focused outward where Common Mergansers whispered amongst themselves in a language only they understood.

In their midst, a Common Goldeneye swam and once again I wondered about that descriptive term “common.” Exactly what is common about that golden eye and all the other features of this duck?

Moments later I gazed skyward again from under a princess pine clubmoss that ends each leaflike structure with a Y as in “Why”? Certainly. Perhaps because.

Distracted once again–I spotted a spring stonefly with its rolled wings providing a stain-glassed venation.

The next upward gaze turned a tree stump into a nurse nourishing an entire deciduous forest as if it could.

Downward, I focused on a black-capped chickadee puffed up on a cold spring morning . . .

and a Mourning Cloak butterfly who had overwintered as an adult under the bark of a nearby tree.

So as a friend reminds me, I’ve entered a new season, one where I squat over vernal pools and beside streams and search for life within for hours on end.

For now, the ice is only just melting and life within the pool taking time to emerge, such as this predacious diving beetle larva.

At last I stand up straight and turn for a reason I don’t recall. But . . . there it is. A bird I’d seen swoop over the pool and stand at its edge as I approached. Of course, then it took off, not giving me an opportunity to identify it . . .

Until the barred owl did just that. Flew back in and posed above. And I realized that as I looked up at it, it looked around . . .

and then down at me. My gaze might be upward, but the owl also searched outward and downward.

As it should. This well-focused visionary knows that one must look in every direction for there’s always something to wonder about. Especially as we celebrate Easter 2021.

And my guy and I give thanks for receiving our second Pfizer shot this weekend. In the midst of joining the owl’s vision, we’re all looking upward.

Tenmile Mondate

I’d never heard of the trail system my guy and I hiked this afternoon until my friend Marita introduced me to it about a week and a half ago. And then, the temps were frigid and our time limited, so we only snowshoed to the Kettle Hole Bog. But . . . that, in itself, was well worth the journey on December 28, 2017.

t-kettle bog

It blows my mind to think that kettle holes are unique features formed over 10,000 years ago when big chunks of ice became stranded and partially buried in glacial outwash or other coarse ice-contact deposits. Eventually, the ice chunks melted, leaving ponds in holes in the ground, with no inlets or outlets. Among the vegetation variety in such a bog is black spruce that stood tall like church spires.

t-spruce caps

Because our initial visit followed the ice and snow storms of the previous weekend, most of the spires donned winter caps.

t-rhodora's winter look

And in the low shrub level, rhodora and other heath shrubs offered their winter form.

t-tenmile 2

We were traveling in the Tenmile River Demonstration Forest and within a few minutes of the kettle bog, Marita and I reached the river.

t-tenmile 1

It was late afternoon when we visited that day and the low temps meant lots of ice had formed.

t-ice on oak leaf

Of course, the ice storm of Dec 23rd added to the frozen display.

d-oak stained glass

And so, when my guy and I visited late this afternoon, I was curious about our finds. Some trees still sported icy sculptures, but much of it had blown down in recent winds. Instead, we looked through a different stained glass window as we traversed the property.

d-sign

The Tenmile River Demonstration Forest was donated to the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District (OCSWCD) in 1950 by Frank Merrifield, three years after the Great Fire of 1947.

Back in October 1947, catastrophic wildfires erupted throughout Maine during what became known as “The Week Maine Burned.”

It hadn’t rained for 108 days and the dry woods were like tinder. Here in western Maine, Fryeburg, Brownfield and Denmark thought they had a fire under control, but overnight a strong wind blew and gave it new life. About 2,000 acres burned by the next night as the fire spread to the edge of Brownfield.

With the winds continuously shifting, town folks began to panic. Farmers either turned their livestock loose or herded them to neighboring towns. Others packed as many belongings as they could and evacuated.

By morning, most homes and public buildings in Brownfield were mere piles of ash. Stately places including the Farnsworth Place where Dr. Philo Farnsworth, a pioneer in the field of television, spent his summers, had burned. Churches, schools, the post office, Grange hall, library and town hall all went up in smoke–only twenty houses survived. In the end, 85% of the town was destroyed.

This past fall, I had the honor of listening to storyteller Jo Radner honor the stories of Brownfield residents with her rendition of Burnt into Memory. If you ever have the chance to be in her audience, I strongly encourage you to attend and listen. Jo not only shares the stories, but also the voices.

d-kiosk

According to the property brochure available at the kiosk, “The District Supervisors replanted the property with red and white pine.” The replanting took place between 1950 and 1960. The brochure states: “It was their plan to turn the land into an example of wise and sustainable forest management and to use it as an education resource area to demonstrate good conservation management practices.”

d-whites and reds

Immediately behind the kiosk the whites and reds were obvious–white pines to the left and red to the right.

d-wetland trail

As we set out today, we found ourselves breaking trail for it seems not many wander this way in the winter. Our intention was to traverse several loops along the land of rolling hills.

In 2012, the pines that had been planted back in the ’50s and ’60s were harvested with the intention of creating an open forest to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor. The overall goal was to encourage new growth and regeneration.

d-wetland view 1

Our journey along the Wetland Trail led to a shrub bog and . . .

d-wetland 2

a marshland above Round Pond. Where’s Waldo? Or rather my guy? I didn’t realize it at the time, but he had found a branch and was headed to the wetland to check on the ice. Meanwhile, I stood on it.

d-hemlock samara 1

As we broke trail, we noticed others who had done the same, including junco foot and wing prints.

d-hemlock samara

And by those footprints, we kept seeing Eastern hemlock seed samaras–minus the seed. How cool is that? While the seed depends on its wing to fly to a new home, our winged friends only care about the seeds.

d-porky trail

A porcupine had also traversed the property and as time would tell, it knew much of the over-200 acre forest.

d-snowshoe hare trail and scat

Snowshoe hare also traveled here. We were thankful for their teachings of packing trails to make movement easier, especially since we were taking turns breaking trail today. Note the touches of scat along the runway of this particular hare.

d-Round Pond overlook

As a demonstration forest, the Oxford County SWCD received a grant in 2012 from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fun to not only show how a forest harvest can be carefully planned and carried out, but also to install interpretive signs that point out special features and describe best management practices.

d-clearing the bench

Also installed at key points, benches offering views. If you go soon, you can thank my guy for clearing the seat overlooking Round Pond.

d-pitch pine

Continuing on, we noted how well marked are the trails. And sometimes such marks made us notice other things, like the fact that this chosen tree was a pitch pine, an important fire adaptive tree. Such adaptations allow it to establish and/or regenerate on burned sites through a variety of options offered by the tree and its buds.

d-beaver lodge bench

Our continued journey took us to the bench and signage for a beaver lodge, though with another foot of snow you’d hardly know it.

d-beaver lodge

Before the bench, we could see the old lodge, though it seemed abandoned given no sight of a vent on it or any new cuts nearby.

d-beaver lodge signage

But still, a sign once cleared, describe the activity and what one might expect to see within such a home.

d-gray birch

Behind the bench, a family of gray birch stood taller than most given that December ice storm had causes so many of them to bow down with the weight of the world.

d-Tenmile River

From the lodge, we went in search of a couple of beaver dams along Tenmile River, and finally spied some open water. Apparently we weren’t the only ones to see it. Do you see the trail beside the river? How I wanted it to be that of an otter. But, reality struck and it was a deer run.

d-beaver dam1

As the day darkened, we did find an old beaver dam, but again, not recent works.

d-wood duck box

And just above the dam, a wood duck box. As the brochure notes, “A harvest was carefully panned and carried out to show how forestry, wildlife habitat conservation, recreation and water resource protection could all be taken into consideration.”

d-witherod bud and leaves

Not far from the river, I found a shrub I immediately recognized for it is a wee bit different from others–witherod or wild raisin.

d-white pines laden with snow

As we continued on our way out, for there was more to discover but the night was drawing close, white pines sagged with the weight of the recent bomb cyclone.

d-red pine laden with snow

And as it should be along this trail, red pines on the opposite side showed that they, too, had bowed to the burdens.

d-gateway between red and white pines

But what struck me about these two species, red pine to the left and white pine to the right, with my guy’s tracks between, was the fact that the Oxford County SWCD had had the foresight to acquire this land and follow up on its purpose as a demonstration forest.

Our journey on this Mondate was only about four miles along the Tenmile River loops, but already, we can’t wait to return and learn what else this property has to offer.